Some observations of highway traffic in long queues

Karen R. Smilowitz, Carlos F. Daganzo, Michael J. Cassidy, Robert L. Bertini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


The arrival times of vehicles traveling southbound along a two-lane, bidirectional highway were recorded at eight neighboring locations upstream of a bottleneck caused by an oversaturated traffic signal. Cumulative curves constructed from these observations describe completely and in great detail the evolution of the resulting long queues. These queues formed directly upstream of the signal when the signal' s service rate fell below the southbound arrival rates, and never formed away from the bottleneck. The predictability of bottlenecks like the one studied here can be exploited to manage traffic more effectively. The behavior of vehicles within the queue, however, was rather interesting. Although the flow oscillations generated by the traffic signal were damped out within 0.8 km (0.5 mi) of the bottleneck, it was found that other oscillations arose within the queue farther upstream, at varied locations, and then grew in amplitude as they propagated in the upstream direction. Thus, the queue appeared to be stable close to the bottleneck and unstable far away. Oscillations never propagated beyond the upstream end of the queue, however; that is, the unusual phenomena always arose after the onset of queueing and remained confined within the queue. Some of these findings run contrary to current theories of traffic flow. Because the data set collected in this study is unprecedented in scope and detail and so that it may be of use to other researchers, it has been posted on the Internet and is fully described here.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)225-233
Number of pages9
JournalTransportation Research Record
Issue number1678
StatePublished - 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering


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